Live coverage: Paterson 'robbery squad' sergeant gets 33 months in federal prison

Michael Cheff, the sergeant who federal prosecutors said was the ringleader of a crew of crooked cops, was sentenced to prison on Monday morning.

Cheff sentenced to 33 months

Michael Cheff had been the only Paterson police officer in the case who maintained his innocence and took his case to trial last May. But he was convicted by a jury that deliberated for more than 10 hours over two days.

Paterson Police Sgt. Michael Cheff (right), is shown seconds after walking out of federal court, in Newark. Cheff was there after being arrested by the FBI Tuesday morning.  Cheff is the eighth member of the Paterson Police Department to get arrested in a corruption probe which started more than three years ago.  Cheff is currently suspended without pay. Tuesday, January 7, 2020
Paterson Police Sgt. Michael Cheff (right), is shown seconds after walking out of federal court, in Newark. Cheff was there after being arrested by the FBI Tuesday morning. Cheff is the eighth member of the Paterson Police Department to get arrested in a corruption probe which started more than three years ago. Cheff is currently suspended without pay. Tuesday, January 7, 2020

The other convicted cops — Jonathan Bustios, Daniel Pent, Eudy Ramos, Frank Toledo and Matthew Torres — all pleaded guilty and eventually got reduced prison time in exchange for their testimony against Cheff.

The ex-cops whom Cheff supervised testified in his trial that he got a share of the ill-gotten money they robbed from people, looked the other way when they filed bogus police reports about their crimes and coached them how to avoid getting caught.

United States District Court Judge Katharine Hayden said she thought 33 months in prison for Cheff was “sufficient…not more than necessary,” and she noted the “moral culpability of someone who did become sergeant.”

“Rather than make them good cops, he let them be bad cops,” the judge said.

Assistant United States Attorney Jihee Suh said Cheff was directly responsible for the “systematic and routine” corruption committed by those under his supervision. “This only happens when you have a sergeant who is perpetuating that conduct.”

Unlike like the five cops sentenced last week, Cheff decided to speak in his own behalf on Monday. Cheff started to give an explanation for why he wasn’t speaking, when his lawyer, John Lynch, grabbed his arm and advises him not to say anything.

Lynch highlighted community work done by Cheff through the Knights of Columbus organization. “He led an exemplary life prior to this, both professionally and personally,” Lynch said of the convicted sergeant.”

“Charity is his second nature,” Lynch added. “That’s the real Michael Cheff. He’s an honorable man.”

Under federal sentencing guidelines, Cheff faced a range of prison time between 33 and 41 months. The other five crooked cops between 30 months and 37 months, but the judge and federal prosecutors agreed to reduce the others’ prison terms because of their cooperation in the Cheff case.

Bustios, Ramos and Toledo all were sentenced to two years, Pent to 18 months and Torres will get probation instead of prison.

Several of the rogue cops testified in the trial about one instance in November 2017 in which they said Cheff took more than $2,000 from a suspected drug dealer’s bedroom safe at the now-demolished Riverside housing projects but kept most of the cash for himself.

Bustios had sent Toledo a text message right after that incident complaining about Cheff not sharing the money. Toledo responded with a message saying the sergeant could be counted on to protect the self-proclaimed “robbery squad” of rogues, saying the sergeant “will look us out no matter what b.”

During the trial, Cheff’s lawyers argued the rogue cops had committed such heinous crimes that they lacked credibility and were lying about their sergeant to help themselves.  Cheff’s lawyers had maintained that all he was guilty of was being too easy-going of a supervisor who failed to notice the wrongdoing by the cops committing the crimes.

To support that argument, Cheff’s lawyers emphasized that none of the thousands of text messages used as evidence in the case had been written by Cheff or to him. But prosecutors asserted that Cheff’s lack of messages simply showed he was smarter than the others who left an electronic trail of evidence of their crimes.

— Joe Malinconico

Other cases plague Paterson Police Department

The FBI’s probe of the robbery squad produced the convictions of two other Paterson cops who were not part of the shakedown scheme. While investigating the cop shakedowns, the FBI learned about another officer, Ruben McAusland, who was selling drugs from his Paterson police vehicle while on duty.

When they arrested McAusland on the drug charges, FBI agents found on his phone a video recording of an emergency room beating that he and his police partner, Roger Then, inflicted on a suicide patient in March 2017.

Former Paterson police officer Ruben McAusland, on right, with his attorney John Whipple, on left, was sentenced to 66 months in prison for drug deals he conducted in 2017 and 2018, sometimes while on duty, in uniform and in his police patrol vehicle. McAusland leaves the Federal Courthouse in Newark on Wednesday, March 27, 2019 after being sentenced.
Former Paterson police officer Ruben McAusland, on right, with his attorney John Whipple, on left, was sentenced to 66 months in prison for drug deals he conducted in 2017 and 2018, sometimes while on duty, in uniform and in his police patrol vehicle. McAusland leaves the Federal Courthouse in Newark on Wednesday, March 27, 2019 after being sentenced.

McAusland was sentenced to 66 months in federal prison and currently is being held at the Federal Correctional Institution in Milan, Michigan. He is scheduled for release in March 2024. Then served a six-month prison term for his role in the ER incident and was released in early 2020.

In an unrelated case, two other Paterson cops — Kevin Patino and Kendry Tineo-Restituyo — face federal civil rights crimes in connection with a video-recorded December 2020 incident in which Patino repeatedly struck a 19-year-old man in South Paterson.

Also, former city cop Spencer Finch faces state criminal charges for an allegedly unprovoked attack on a man involved in a domestic dispute in May 2021. The Finch incident was recorded by another Paterson officer’s body camera. City officials fired Finch, but Patino and Tineo remain on paid leave pending the outcome of the case against them.

Joe Malinconico is editor of Paterson Press. Email: editor@patersonpress.com

This article originally appeared on NorthJersey.com: Michael Cheff, Paterson Police 'robbery squad' leader, sentenced